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soundchaser comments on The Best Textbooks on Every Subject - Less Wrong

167 Post author: lukeprog 16 January 2011 08:30AM

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Comment author: soundchaser 18 January 2011 04:32:09AM 2 points [-]

I have been using Harmony and Voice Leading for a little while. Is An Introduction to Tonal Theory really that much better?

I've always felt that the way they explain concepts is very hand wavy and doesn't really explain anything and I tend to prefer things to be more mathematical or abstract.

I'll probably pick this book up on your suggestion.

Comment author: komponisto 19 January 2011 01:27:10AM 4 points [-]

I have been using Harmony and Voice Leading for a little while. Is An Introduction to Tonal Theory really that much better?

Yes.

Don't get me wrong, Aldwell and Schachter are about the best you can do while still remaining in the traditional "vocabulary of chords" paradigm. (You can even see how they tried to keep the number of "chords" down to a minimum.) Unfortunately, that paradigm is simply wrong.

Also, Aldwell and Schachter, brilliant musicians though they may be (especially Schachter), lack the deeper intellectual preoccupations that Westergaard possesses in abundance. One should perhaps think of their book as being written for students at Mannes or Julliard, and of Westergaard's as being written for students at Columbia or Princeton. (There is a certain literal truth to these statements.)

I've always felt that the way they explain concepts is very hand wavy and doesn't really explain anything and I tend to prefer things to be more mathematical or abstract.

You'll love ITT.

Comment author: TessPope 11 February 2011 03:00:31PM 1 point [-]

"One should perhaps think of their book as being written for students at Mannes or Julliard and of Westergaard's as being written for students at Columbia or Princeton. (There is a certain literal truth to these statements.)"

As a graduate of Juilliard I am curious about this assertion. Care to elaborate? Not that I personally have ever had much use as a performer for abstract notions about music theory. My experience has been that it gets in the way of actually performing music. Which leads to the question 'why should this be so' ? Those of my colleagues who were great adepts at theory were uninspired performers of the music they seemed to understand so well. All head and no heart. But why? I can understand that they are different skill sets, but why should they not be complementary skill sets?

I imagine that on this site, alarm bells may go off as I make an observation from experience, but I do not think that it would be possible to use any sort of methodology or system analysis to determine who is and who is not an inspired performer. Just try figuring out how orchestral auditions are run! Now that is a sloppy business!

Regarding textbooks: have any of you read W.A. Mathieu's

W.A. Mathieu Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from Its Natural Origins to Its Modern Expression (1997) Inner Traditions Intl Ltd. ISBN 0-89281-560-4.

Comment author: komponisto 12 February 2011 04:40:48AM *  5 points [-]

As a graduate of Juilliard I am curious about this assertion. Care to elaborate? Not that I personally have ever had much use as a performer for abstract notions about music theory. My experience has been that it gets in the way of actually performing music. Which leads to the question 'why should this be so' ? Those of my colleagues who were great adepts at theory were uninspired performers of the music they seemed to understand so well. All head and no heart. But why? I can understand that they are different skill sets, but why should they not be complementary skill sets?

It's a complicated question, but the short answer is that what usually passes for "music theory" is the wrong theory. At least, it's certainly the wrong theory for the purposes of turning people into inspired performers, because as you point out, it doesn't.

But then, if you'll forgive my cynicism, that isn't the purpose of music theory class, any more than the purpose of high-school Spanish class is to teach people Spanish. The purpose of such classes is to provide a test for students that's easy to grade them on and makes the school look good to outside observers.

(Nor, by the way, do students typically show up at Juilliard for the purpose of turning themselves from uninspired into inspired performers; rather, in order to get there in the first place they already have to be "inspired enough" by the standards of current musical culture, and are there simply for the purposes of networking and career-building.)

But music theory isn't inherently counterproductive to or useless for becoming a good performer or composer; it's just that you need a different theory for that. Ultimately, inspired performers are that way because they know certain information that their less-inspired counterparts don't; to see what this sort of information looks like when written down, see Chapter 9 of Westergaard. (And after reading that chapter, tell me if you still think that knowledge of music theory "gets in the way of actually performing music".)